Is Your Airport At Risk?

Another in the series of Knowledgebase Articles from CalPilots.

Is your airport safe from development? Do your local government representatives understand its value to the community? Not really sure? Do you believe that ?no news is good news?? Are you sure that a developer isn?t already creating a ‘business relationship’ with your city council? Is that developer paying for reports that the city should be funding? Are developers making promises to fund projects that the city might find tempting regardless of the fact that it should not be accepting this inappropriate private funding? If you don?t think this is an issue for your airport, think again. It is happening throughout the United States, and California is no exception. As an example, the Watsonville Airport Association is currently dealing with just such a scenario. Elk Grove, an airport of 33 years, just lost its use permit due to the Sacramento County Board of Supervisors siding with a developer over a non-existent airport safety issue. Are you willing to bet that more aren?t in process?

How Do They Do It?
Webster defines lobbyist as: a person, acting for a special interest group, who tries to influence the introduction of or voting on legislation or the decisions of government administrators?. Lobbyists exist at all levels of government, including at the city level, regardless of the city size. Make no mistake. Developers pursuing a relationship with city council members are just that–Lobbyists! Lobbyists exist to promote themselves, their business proposals, and in the developers case, to make money. They do so with whatever means is required, including funding special projects which might insure they are looked upon favorably. Other methods might include ‘planning lunches’, and anything else they can use to win themselves favor. Developers, and some government administrators, are counting on continuing pilot apathy. Don’t participate in their plan.

Preserve Your Airport
Facts: Airport promotion and preservation takes a lot of work and starts at the local level. It is time for everyone interested in aviation to get involved.
Does your airport have an ‘airport support association’? If not, why not? If the answer is yes, do you belong? If not, why not? If you do, are you formally organized and ready to deal with airport attacks by developers, and less then informed local politicians? Is someone monitoring what the local airport sponsor (an airport sponsor is typically the municipality responsible for its operation and budget) is doing? If not, why not?

Airport promotion and preservation starts at the local level. Who better to understand your airports attributes as well as its issues, then the local pilots? The California Pilots Association (CalPilots) is aware of multiple airports where the airport association attends all city counsel meetings, especially when their airport is on the agenda. Public meeting agendas are typically published in advance, so there is no reason you and/or your airport association should be out the loop. It could be as easy as asking to be notified.

What can your airport association do to insure your airport is not exposed? First things first, it takes a dedicated group of people to monitor and proactively deal with airport issues. We’re talking ‘junk yard dogs here–real tenacity’. There is a lot of work to do, starting with insuring that the publics? perception of the airport is positive. Here are some points to start you off:

1. Create an airport association if one does not exist. This requires getting all pilots that use the airport involved. This is not necessarily easy, but it is required. Agree on a name, preferably ‘ABC Airport Association’, versus ‘ABC Pilot Association’. Why? An airport association is dedicated to the community asset. Perception is truth as they say.

2. Formalize. Vote in a President and Board to lead the association. Appoint a few of these individuals as spokespersons for your association. These spokespersons should be capable of discussing airport issues in a public speaking environment. They are typically the association members who attend all city council meetings to track what is transpiring.

3. Communicate frequently, via meetings, an email list, or telephone. Set-up committees that will make personal contact (lobby) council members, and supervisors, before any meeting with them (first make sure you educate yourselves, and then educate the airport sponsor). Your spokesperson(s) will attend these meetings representing your association.

4. Once the basics are agreed to, and the association is organized, create a news/email letter, and if at all possible a web site. Remember to continually communicate why your airport is an important asset.

5. Create a nominal airport membership fee to handle future costs, such mailings, etc., (however additional members are more important than dollars at this point).

6. Make up a portfolio and use the web site, public meetings or even the local newspaper to communicate your association?s purpose, and how it benefits the community.

7. Supervisor/council member contacts should be made as an organization, not as individuals. CalPilots received feedback that government administrators deal better with a few members representing a larger organization, then individual interaction. Most are very busy, and it is respectful to honor these individuals? time restraints.

8. Face to face meetings are very important, especially when an issue exists. Email and phone calls are easily dismissed because it is easy to do so. Regardless of the issue, always meet personally with the individuals involved. It shows respect and that you are serious about resolving the issue; and that you are not going away (they need to deal with you and the issue). Remember, always be polite and unemotional, and stay on point. Do not give up.

9. Ask your regional California Pilots Association representative(s) to help guide your association in its pursuit of airport promotion and preservation. CalPilots cannot lead the fight for your airport; we do not have the resources. This is why local participation is extremely important and required.

10. Consider becoming a California Pilots Association Chapter. There are numerous reasons to do so, including eligibility under our non-profit corporation status. A unified front sends a message to local and state politicians. Politicians understand votes. The CalPilots Airport Support Model requires local/statewide and national support.

11. The Caltrans Division of Aeronautics is a resource for your airport, and inspects each California airport on a scheduled basis. Make sure you resolve any potential safety issue the Division of Aeronautics points out. Remember, an airport inspection which is satisfactorily completed implies safety approval. Work together not against your Division of Aeronautics representative.

12. All government records are public record. You can review airport operational costs and budgets, and have a right to do so. Determine where to get access to these and all airport records to gain valuable knowledge from them. Get educated, then educate.

13. Airport association representative(s) should attend all city council meetings. Establish your airport association?s presence so local government administrators know you are there and get to know your association.

14. Watch the ‘Letters to the Editor’ section in your local newspaper for editorials biased against your airport. Always answer these negative letters with factual, unemotional responses. Always respond, so the community understands both sides of the issue. Over communication is better.

15. Last but not least, work together with your airport manager. He/she is in a very difficult position. Imagine working within the glue like political process they face, and on the other side hearing their local pilots constantly complaining about issues beyond their control. We need to work together, not against one another. Make sure your association spokesperson(s) get to know your airport manager well. Invite him/her to all of your large events. Create a partnership of trust and cooperation.

These are a few informational points for you to consider. The California Pilots Association is here to help guide you through the promotion and preservation of your airport. Together we can make a difference for General Aviation in California.

Get Educated, then Educate…..CalPilots

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